Demystifying Carbon Dioxide Removal
July Roundup

Dear all,

The big news this month is the launch of the Carbon Business Council, which aims to give 40 odd early-stage carbon removal companies a seat at the policy table. We take a look at what the council aims to achieve and other initiatives that are trying to promote innovation through collaboration.

We also scrutinise the stream of new CDR industry announcements - not all of which are accurate or welcome. And lastly, a new study has quantified the limited potential of nature restoration in keeping temperature rise below 1.5°C, so we check out the potential of new technological options for carbon removal that are under trial, including carbon negative beaches, concrete and trains.

As always, please feel free to share this newsletter with anyone who may be interested. Sign up here and click here to see an archive of previous editions. And feel free to get in touch at any time with suggestions or feedback - it’s always great to hear from you.

Till next time,


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Stat of the month:


The maximum amount of avoided warming achieved by the end of this century by deploying responsible nature restoration, according to new research 

A new business council for CDR

With the carbon removal industry evolving so rapidly, policymakers have a hard time keeping up. Helping to bridge this gap, 42 carbon removal startups came together last week to launch the Carbon Business Council - a nonprofit that aims to “create a seat at the policy table for early-stage companies focused on restoring the climate,” according to executive director Ben Rubin. The council will encourage policymakers to support the full diversity of methods for removing carbon from the atmosphere, most of which are still in early stage development. It has also released an “ethical oath” for growing the carbon management industry in a responsible way. 

A first policy move for the US-based council is endorsing last month’s Carbon Removal and Emissions Storage Technologies (CREST) Act, which aims to create new federal research programmes for carbon removal and to provide startups with funding to measure how much carbon they are actually removing.

With a similarly collaborative goal, the US Department of Energy convened a Carbon Negative Shot Summit on climate solutions. The summit ended with an “all-hands-on-deck call for innovation” in technologies and approaches to remove CO2 from the atmosphere and durably store it at meaningful scale, all the while lowering the cost to a more commercially-viable price of USD 100 a tonne or less. The US Secretary of Energy and Australian Energy Minister have also signed a Net Zero Acceleration Partnership agreement. The partnership aims to speed up the development and deployment of zero-emissions technology with a focus on direct air capture (DAC), long-duration battery storage, grid integration, green hydrogen and critical minerals.

Out of the limelight, the US has been working on something a little more controversial - the first federally-coordinated effort to develop a research plan that would guide and set standards for how scientists study geoengineering. This was approved by President Biden as part of the 2022 Federal Appropriations Act back in March, but had so far not attracted media attention before being featured in MIT Technology Review this month.

Moving to Europe, the European Commission has launched a call for applications for a carbon removal expert group to assist in the preparation of key policy initiatives and legislative proposals on the voluntary certification of carbon removals. Meanwhile in the UK, the government has announced the projects receiving GBP 54.4 million of funding as part of its greenhouse gas removal technologies competition. The awardees include researchers developing DAC technology for use alongside the controversial, recently-approved nuclear power plant Sizewell C, methane capture from farming and removal of carbon from seawater. However, they also include projects aiming to produce hydrogen or fuel where not all captured carbon will be stored.

Image source: Climeworks

Overhyped industry claims

DAC industry leader Climeworks has announced it has started building a second commercial-sized plant that will capture and store 36,000 tonnes of CO2 a year. The new plant, due to be operational in two years, will be 10 times larger than its ‘Orca’ plant - currently the world's largest - and, keeping the theme, will be called ‘Mammoth’. While this is an impressive rate of scale-up, the plant will capture only a sliver of the 36 billion tonnes of energy-related CO2 emissions produced worldwide last year - reducing CO2 by just 0.0001%. Simply put, when considering just how many plants would need to be built for large-scale carbon removal, the “eye-watering costs underline just how mind-bogglingly stupid it is for us to continue emitting carbon at all today,” according to journalist Jameson Dow. 

Climeworks has also signed one of its biggest deals with Microsoft for removing 10,000 tonnes of CO2 over ten years. This contributes to Microsoft’s plans to remove all the carbon it has emitted since launching in 1975 by 2050, but not by much - the company’s emissions actually rose by 21% last year.

 “A ringing endorsement from the fossil fuel industry has unsurprisingly set off alarm bells”

Adding to the carbon purchase announcements this month, the Stripe-led carbon removal effort, Frontier fund, has revealed its first recipients, including an Australian DAC company that claims to be the first to use electricity rather than heat to enable CO2 capture using only renewable sources. Airlines also got in on the action. Airbus and seven major airlines signed letters of intent to explore opportunities for a future supply of carbon removal credits from DAC technology. Airbus is leading this initiative with its agreement for the pre-purchase of 400,000 tonnes of carbon removal credits over four years with 1PointFive. 1PointFive has not yet constructed a commercial plant, but already says it wants to help build 70 DAC plants by 2035.

More controversially, Drax shared its plans to build the world’s largest carbon capture and storage project. This included a bold claim from the group CEO that the bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) project will “permanently remove millions of tonnes of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere every year” while generating renewable power. But, as environmental groups have insisted, the maths behind BECCS doesn’t add up - the harvesting, processing, transporting and burning of woody biomass does not result in negative carbon emissions. 

Talking of not adding up, Exxon CEO Darren Woods has stated that emerging technologies for DAC are “the holy grail” society needs to address climate change. A ringing endorsement from the fossil fuel industry has unsurprisingly set off alarm bells, with a new Friends of the Earth report exploring how the industry is seeking to use the voluntary carbon market to continue business as usual.

‘Carbon negative’ beaches, concrete and trains

​​Just in case you had any doubt - a new study has confirmed carbon removals from nature restoration are no substitute for steep emission reductions. A study of the space and time it takes to use natural restoration as a mitigation measure shows that it would, at best, cumulatively remove 103 billion tonnes of CO2 between 2020 and 2100. This would lower end-of-century temperatures by approximately 0.1°C. This means, with current policy projections, we would still be facing a harsh 2.9°C temperature rise in 2100. The limitation of natural solutions for permanent carbon storage is echoed in recent events as carbon offset company Land Life unwittingly started a wildfire last week that damaged 14,000 hectares of land. For reference, the company has a goal of planting 10,000 hectares a year. This fire was accidental, but fires all across Europe are occurring more frequently due to climate change, highlighting the need for robust safety measures for managing nature-based solutions. 

Another study this month has cast doubt on a different nature based solution - soil carbon sequestration. No-tillage farming has been widely promoted as a principle of universal soil health, but new research finds the approach may actually reduce carbon stored in the short-term, and have minimal to zero effect on carbon storage in the long-term, compared to conventional farming practices. 

There are of course plenty of other ways to remove carbon and a number of new projects have been announced this month. In the US, local officials have joined forces with climate scientists and start-up Vesta to spread 650 tonnes of olivine over a beach in New York state in a two-year trial. Olivine is a natural mineral that, when broken down into smaller grains, takes up carbon in a process known as enhanced weathering. The start-up claims the pilot could remove the carbon equivalent of one car for every household in the beach town for 1-2 years. A separate group of researchers analysing coastal carbon capture estimate the ability of such minerals to absorb CO2 plateaus after three to four years.

Another interesting approach under trial is scaling up cultivation of an algae species called coccolithophores to develop concrete. Scientist Will Srubar explains that the process is the same as the current method of cement production, but “switches the source of limestone from scooping it out of the ground to growing it using algae”. This switch could prevent two billion tonnes of CO2 emissions a year, according to Srubar, assuming urban construction growth at current rates.

Lastly, researchers think they are on track to directly remove carbon using a modified rail car, placed within trains already in use today. The researchers claim that an average freight train fitted with their system could remove up to 6,000 tonnes of CO2 a year – an amount comparable to that emitted by 250 medium-sized family cars over their lifespans. As highlighted in the study, this could overcome a few problems facing DAC - there would be no competition for land use, no building permits required and lower infrastructure costs. But critics remain sceptical. For example, the system would be powered by energy produced when the train brakes, energy often used already in modern trains, so the process could actually result in additional energy use. Start-up CO2 Rail believes the first DAC railcar will be in production by early next year.

Useful resources this month
A study: Analysis of more than 30,000 species in a CDR-reliant overshoot scenario suggests climate risk to biodiversity from temperature overshoot will arrive suddenly, but decrease only gradually - lagging behind the temperature decline.

A report: Carbon Plan has conducted analysis and interviews to understand the barriers to scaling the CDR industry.

An industry snapshot: Researchers have mapped carbon removal certification and standards in 2021-2022.

A research paper: Modelling future climate change projections often stops at the end of the century. One study has gone further and analysed the long-term effects of carbon removal to 2300.

An overview: The Clean Air Task Force has put together a neat overview of where policy on DAC stands today.

An article: An MIT Review piece on the need for CDR.
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Each month the demystifying carbon dioxide removal newsletter digs into the world of CDR to bring you the latest stories on everything from carbon credits and net-zero plans to nature-based solutions (NbS) and new technologies.

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